If you’ve been spending some time researching skin lightening products to treat your hyperpigmentation, you’ve no doubt come across Hydroquinone. When used in skin care products, Hydroquinone is often regarded as a magic eraser. Honestly, there’s nothing magical about Hydroquinone. Its ability to lighten skin discolorations is based 100% in science.
The science behind Hydroquinone explains why it’s so effective in treating various types of hyperpigmentation conditions, but science is also behind a common concern that many people have – that they’ve heard Hydroquinone can cause hyperpigmentation.
When used properly, Hydroquinone is very effective in treating skin discolorations, but during the course of treatment you may notice that your skin appears darker. We’d like to take this chance to provide information on why this is both normal and temporary.
The Natural Process to Even Toned Skin
The idea that Hydroquinone is a skin bleaching agent is a fallacy. Hydroquinone is an ingredient that works on a cellular level to impede in the life cycle of melanocytes, which are the skin’s pigment cells. An overproduction of melanocytes is what’s behind hyperpigmentation conditions.
As Hydroquinone gets to work, it decreases melanocyte production, while speeding up cellular breakdown. This double-sided approach not only works to lighten the skin but can also provide some protection against future occurrences. Products containing Hydroquinone basically turn down the volume on overzealous melanocytes.
So, how can Hydroquinone make skin darker during this process?
The answer is in the fact that Hydroquinone doesn’t actually remove the pigment from the skin, it just halts the production. This means that as melanocytes die off, they’re going to accumulate on your skin, just like any other type of dead skin cell. But, because these cells are more pigmented, the accumulation of them at the surface may temporarily make your skin look darker.
Depending on the severity of hyperpigmentation, this effect can last for a couple weeks before you really start to see improvements in your skin. While this “shedding” process is completely natural, there are a few steps you can take to make the effect as short lived as possible.
For example, committing to a regular, gentle skin care routine. Daily cleansing helps to remove dead skin cells and the excess oils and dirt that bind them to the skin surface. Maintaining a regular routine will facilitate the shedding of this dead skin.
Gentle exfoliation can also be used to help slough off the dead skin. However, Hydroquinone can make the skin more sensitive, so it’s best to only use a very gentle, natural enzymatic exfoliator. A high-quality Hydroquinone product will also contain ingredients such as Salicylic Acid, or Azelaic Acid, that will work to gently remove the hyperpigmented cells from the skin’s surface without the need for an additional exfoliant.
When Can Using Hydroquinone Cause Hyperpigmentation?
While a temporary darkening is normal with typical use, there will be cases where it seems that Hydroquinone can cause hyperpigmentation to become even worse for the long term. Occasionally, this can happen, however, it almost always happens because of how the Hydroquinone application was used and not the ingredient itself.
For example, using Hydroquinone without sunscreen can exaggerate hyperpigmented skin conditions. Hydroquinone works by decreasing the amount of melanin, which also means that the skin is going to be more sensitive to the sun. Think about how easily a fair skinned person with low levels of melanin responds to sun exposure compared to someone with darker skin: they burn easily and more severely.
The lack of melanin in the areas treated with Hydroquinone are extremely vulnerable to damage from UV rays. Considering that many hyperpigmentation conditions – such as Melasma, age spots and freckles – are made worse by sun exposure, it’s easy to see how without proper SPF protection, Hydroquinone use can cause darkening.
As Hydroquinone’s reputation has built in recent years, more people have started to consider it as a treatment option for their own hyperpigmentation. This is great, except that not all products are created equal and how they’re used can significantly influence their effectiveness.
Currently, the highest concentration of Hydroquinone that’s available without a prescription is 2%. Given that many of us tend to have a “more is better” philosophy, some unscrupulous people have attempted to make higher concentrations available on the dark market. Not only is using Hydroquinone at higher levels dangerous without medical supervision, the ingredients in many of these products are inferior and can even damage the skin.
Using too high of a concentration without medical supervision can result in resistance, and as a result, melanocytes overproduce in response to the medication. This is how Hydroquinone can make conditions like Melasma worse instead of better.
Duration of treatment is also key in preventing resistance, no matter what the strength of the product you’re using. Hydroquinone works best when used in cycles, with at least 4-8 weeks in between to give your skin cells a chance to recover, adjust and not become resistant to the therapeutic properties of Hydroquinone.
When formulated with other high-quality ingredients, Hydroquinone accomplishes amazing things for those suffering with hyperpigmentation. The secret to great results in found in the quality of the product used, and the level of respect for your skin. Never take chances with inferior products and choose a Hydroquinone solution that’s been formulated with high quality, complimentary ingredients – you and your skin are worth it.
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